Thu, 17 Jul 2003

Megawati eats her words, signs education law

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Megawati Soekarnoputri has put the acrimonious debate over the national education bill behind her by signing the bill into law.

Her signature on July 8 enacted Law No. 20/2003 on the national education system, which has met with resistance in several provinces ever since it was approved by the House of Representatives on June 11.

"Of course, there are some articles that need to be implemented through government regulations, but basically the law has taken effect," Cabinet deputy secretary Erman Radjagukguk told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Even without Megawati's signature, the bill would have automatically taken effect 30 days after its approval by the House. Since assuming power, Megawati has refused to sign three bills, namely those on broadcasting, finance and labor protection, also due to public controversy.

Megawati's decision to sign the education system bill raised the eyebrows of her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) legislators, whom she had instructed to stall the deliberation of the bill.

She later summoned one of the PDI Perjuangan faction leaders to thank the legislators for complying with her instruction.

The House endorsed the bill in the absence of all PDI Perjuangan legislators, who had demanded that its approval be delayed.

"We stand by our position that the law should be further promoted to the public," one of the party's members told the Post under the condition of anonymity.

The controversy over the law centers around an article requiring schools to provide religious instruction for students according to their faiths. Opposition to the stipulation comes mostly from non-Muslims.

Many observers and practitioners critical of the law have said that the legislation paves the way for too much government intervention in national education and fails to respond to global challenges facing the country.

Provinces in eastern Indonesia like North Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara and Papua have asked the central government to allow them to disregard the law.

Some schools in East Nusa Tenggara have requested the establishment of the Indonesian Education Watch to ensure that students can exercise their rights.

Antara reported that the organization would provide legal aid to ensure fair and just implementation of the new legislation.

East Nusa Tenggara's Catholic Education Board (MPK) chief Herman Abatan said that the watchdog would be declared on July 22.